The Pulse

Watchdog explains cynical politics in demise of straight-ticket voting

By: - September 4, 2014 8:00 am
Bob Hall
Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall

Be sure to check out the op-ed authored by Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall in the Winston-Salem Journal this morning about one of the less-well-publicized (but most cynical and manipulative) provisions buried in the state’s infamous “monster voting law.”

As Hall explains, the decision to do away with straight-ticket voting was clearly the result of one thing: the determination by Republican officials that it would reduce Democratic votes:

In 2012, a solid majority – 56 percent – of North Carolina voters marked one box on their ballots to indicate their choices in more than a dozen different races, from governor to county commissioner. It’s called straight-ticket voting and in 2012, it involved 1.4 million ballots for Democratic candidates and 1.1 million for Republicans. African Americans were about 60 percent more likely than whites to use this voting method.

In an ideal world, our schools, TV stations and other media would teach people about civics and citizenship, the importance of voting, the candidates and offices on the ballot, and how to determine who’s a goat, not just a donkey or elephant. Instead, voting is discounted and election contests are covered like a horse race – who’s ahead in the polls and who’s got the most money behind them.

Given that reality, the straight-ticket option gives voters a handy way to participate in many contests with a single mark for a party’s slate of candidates. That’s especially helpful with North Carolina’s notoriously long ballot, which extends to partisan races for clerk of court, even coroner. Straight-ticket voting allows voters to efficiently, effectively show support for candidates of the party that best shares their values. It makes the voting process less intimidating, more accessible and it reduces the waiting time for everybody.

Why get rid of it? Because Republican leaders decided it hurts their chances to win more elections. The change has nothing to do with preventing fraud or improving integrity; it’s all about analyzing the voting behavior of supporters and opponents for a party’s self-serving gain.

Democratic Party leaders have done similar calculations and changed election rules, often to make voting easier, but in modern times the GOP has focused much more on reducing access for its perceived opponents rather than making voting more available to its supporters.

The tip-off of this exclusionary strategy, and indeed the whole rationale behind the sweeping changes to state election law, comes from statements by Jack Hawke, a former NC GOP chair, former president of the Civitas Institute, and former campaign manager for Pat McCrory. After the Democrats’ 2008 victory, Hawke wrote a column for the Carolina Journal explaining why the McCrory campaign fell short that year. Blame the straight ticket and early voting, he said.

“The [Obama] campaign targeted the most likely straight-ticket voters and made sure they voted early. The number of black and young voters was unprecedented,” Hawke wrote. “The Obama campaign had estimated that if 24% of the total vote was African-American they would carry the state. In fact, 27% of early voters statewide . . . were African-American.”

When you read Hawk’s explanation, you can understand how the GOP came to believe that to achieve victory they had to reverse the high turnout of black and young voters, go after straight-ticket voting and early voting, and cut same-day registration during early voting which heavily favored youth and African Americans.

The partisan goal of victory became completely intertwined with an anti-black, anti-youth electoral strategy, intentionally, purposefully. To recognize it as partisan does not excuse its racial and age bias. It may not be hateful but it does hurt real people.

Read Hall’s entire op-ed by clicking here.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.